The third week of IPL 2021, with its bases shifted from Chennai and Mumbai respectively to Ahmedabad and Delhi after 20 matches, produced some nail-biting finishes and one surprise – or maybe not, given the team in case’s slump – change of leadership.
Pollard chase’s the best ever?
Against table-toppers Chennai Super Kings in Delhi, defending champions Mumbai Indians chased down 218 off the last ball of the match with four wickets remaining, thanks to one of their stalwarts, Kieron Pollard.
Pollard, at 33 and carrying extra weight around his midriff, dispelled doubts about his abilities and underlined his status as a bonafide legend of T20 cricket by smashing an unbeaten 87 off 34 balls, clubbing eight sixes and six fours.
Pollard’s entry at No 5 with Mumbai 81/3 in the 10th over required him to restart the chase. Three wickets had fallen in three overs, and apart from the not out Krunal Pandya, Pollard knew that behind him was the woefully out-of-form Hardik Pandya and Jimmy Neesham, playing his first game of the season. Mumbai needed 138 runs from 62 balls.
Aware of the shorter boundaries in Delhi and the need to attack the spinners, Pollard struck three sixes off Ravindra Jadeja in one over and two off Lungi Ngidi. Shardul Thakur was next hit for six and three fours, the last of which raised Pollard’s fifty in just 17 deliveries.
Krunal took the baton and hit Ngidi for two fours and a six to bring the equation to 50 from 24, but was then pinned lbw by Sam Curran in a superb 17th over which brought only two runs. Pollard kept swinging against Thakur and was lucky to be put down on 67 by none other than Faf du Plessis, who ran in from long-on but failed to clutch on.
Hardik slammed consecutive sixes off Curran’s last over but was dismissed fourth ball, and Neesham, on debut for MI, fell for a golden duck. It came down to 16 needed off the last over bowled by Ngidi, and Pollard kept the strike from Dhawal Kulkarni. He hit successive fours and a six over deep square leg to make it two runs off the last ball, and coolly bunted a blockhole delivery past Ngidi and sprinted two Kulkarni.
“Probably one of the best T20 games that I’ve been part of,” said Rohit Sharma. “One of the best innings also, you can say, from Polly.”
Warner replaced amid stumbling season
On May 1, a statement released by last-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad announced that David Warner had been replaced by Kane Williamson as captain of the franchise as it sought to turn around a woeful season. The decision came after SRH lost their fifth match in IPL 2021 under Warner, whose struggles as batsman have also been reflective of the team’s fortunes.
“This decision has not come lightly as the management respects the enormous impact David Warner has had for the franchise over a number of years,” the team said in a statement. “The team management has also made the decision that they will be changing their overseas combination for tomorrow’s (Sunday’s) match against Rajasthan Royals.”
As it turned out, Warner did not feature against RR in Delhi, where Mohammad Nabi took his place, and SRH were hammered by 55 runs.
After the team’s seven-wicket loss to Chennai Super Kings, Warner was asked, once again, to put a finger on where SRH got it wrong. He blamed himself for his side’s loss, saying he took too long in compiling a half-century (Warner’s 55-ball 57 was his slowest in T20s, on the night he became the fourth man to reach 10,000 runs in the format). Warner was, candidly, highly critical of batting.
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“I take full responsibility for the way I batted, I batted slow and hit the fielders,” he said. “Kane and Kedar (Jadhav) got us to a respectable total, but at the end of the day I take full responsibility. I probably hit 15 good shots to fielders and they are the ones that make or break the innings. I took too many balls.”
A couple of matches prior, after another loss, Warner was asked about the dropping of Manish Pandey after three matches, in which he made 61*, 38 and 2 with a continuously dwindling strike-rate. Warner replied axing Pandey from the SRH XI was a “harsh call” by the franchise’s “selectors”. Who Warner was referring to is not certain, but it indicated that all is not well within the SRH camp.
While statistically SRH’s second-highest run-getter of the season with 193 from six innings, Warner’s strike-rate of 110.28 is by some distance the lowest of his 12-season career, and well down on his IPL career strike-rate of 140.13.
Buttler’s first T20 hundred? Really?
In his 260th innings in T20 cricket, and after 46 previous half-centuries, Jos Buttler scored his first century in the format to set up Rajasthan’s huge victory over SRH. Hard to believe that England’s best white-ball batsman didn’t have a T20 century, eh?
What Buttler produced in Delhi was sensational. After a lean run for RR in IPL 2021, Buttler got a life on 7 when Rashid Khan trapped him lbw on a reverse-sweep but didn’t have a review left to use. Buttler proceeded to 35 from 33 balls but then reached his half-century from 39 and needed just 17 more deliveries after that to get to his maiden T20 century.
He topped his previous best of 95* – also scored in the IPL a few seasons ago – and finished with 124 from 64 balls to help Rajasthan to 220/3, having struck eight sixes and 11 fours. Buttler, 30, smashed 80 runs off his last 26 deliveries faced as he welcomed Nabi into the attack with 21 runs in the 15th over and then took 24 off Sandeep Sharma in the 19th. In response, Sunrisers could only manage 165 to slump further in the league while Rajasthan moved up to fifth place.
After scoring his century, Buttler joked that he could at last call up former England captain Alastair Cook and tell him he could stop ribbing him about having one more T20 hundred than Buttler.
RCB pip Capitals in last-ball thriller
A see-sawing top-of-the-table-battle was extended when Royal Challengers Bangalore overcame a stunning counter-attacking fifty from Shimron Hetmyer to beat Delhi Capitals by just one run and go back to No 1, briefly.
Having escaped a collapse and posted 171/5 thanks to AB de Villiers’ superb unbeaten 75 off 42 balls, RCB were calling the shots until the 18th over, at which stage Delhi needed 48 from 18 balls, in which Hetmyer smashed three sixes off Kyle Jamieson. Harshal Patel conceded one four in an 11-run penultimate over, which left Mohammed Siraj to defend 14 runs.
He conceded four off his first four balls before consecutive fours to Delhi captain Rishabh Pant took his team to 170/4 in their 20 overs. At the non-strikers’ end, Hetmyer slumped to his knees in disappointment, not out on 53 from 25 deliveries. He had faced a single ball in Siraj’s last over, while Pant consumed 48 balls for his unbeaten 58, an innings which after the loss he said was not satisfying.
In their previous match, Capitals had forced a tie and then squeezed the season’s first Super Over, but against RCB they ended up agonisingly short.
Punjab lose Rahul, stumble to fifth loss
The misfortunes of Punjab Kings this season have been severely extended with news on Sunday that their captain and leading run-scorer KL Rahul was hospitalised with acute appendicitis. While the required surgery is not a serious one, with the required recovery time plus necessary bio bubble protocols in place, it is unlikely that Rahul will return to the IPL this year, with 27 days left in the overall tournament and Punjab’s play-off chances hanging by a thread. The team currently sits at sixth place with six points from eight matches.
The man chosen on short notice to lead Punjab in Rahul’s absence was Mayank Agarwal and back in the lineup after missing their last match due to soreness, he delivered a superb innings.
Agarwal and Rahul are best mates off the field, and against Delhi Capitals in Ahmedabad the stand-in captain played the kind of innings that his pal has been doing for the franchise. Agarwal batted the full 20 overs to score an unbeaten 99 that smoothed over two collapses and gave the bowlers something to work with. Punjab’s total of 166 was divided into two parts: Agarwal’s 99* off 58 balls and the 67 runs that the other seven players to bat, plus extras, contributed.
Punjab dropped Nicholas Pooran after he made four ducks in seven innings, and brought in the No 1 ranked T20I batsman in Dawid Malan. Chris Gayle batted at three and made 13, Malan scored a run-a-ball 26, Deepak Hooda was run out for 1 and Shahrukh Khan managed 4. Punjab’s dependency on Rahul for runs will surely be channeled into Agarwal, but the franchise needs a lot more than runs to stay afloat in IPL 2021.